If a happily ever after existed for the Catholic High football team, head coach Greg Seibert and his staff on Saturday morning would have been piecing together a game plan for their Class 3A state semifinal trip to Orlando First Academy.
But as a somber Seibert said Friday night, "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
Suffering a second overtime loss this season to powerhouse Madison County, this one by a 17-14 score, the Crusaders were that close to a defining win for the program. But the mystique of the Cowboys' famed Boot Hill Stadium proved just enough ... if only barely.
"Football is a game of inches," Seibert said Saturday. "And I know it sounds cliché, but in big games like that, you have to fight for every one of those inches. Our kids did that, the kids at Madison County did that. ... It was just a tremendous high school football game we unfortunately were unable to win."
And inches truly separated the Crusaders (8-4) from the upset over the Cowboys (11-1).
During Catholic's final possession of regulation, which started at the Madison County 40 following a Mike Neal fumble recovery with 3:12 to play, two "this close" pass plays could have decided the outcome.
On first down, Cody Henry fired a pass to streaking Tylan Purifoy along the left sideline. If that ball is 6 inches to the right, and not as much over the left shoulder, Purifoy probably can use two hands and scores a touchdown.
On third down, Henry finds Ja'paul Sinkfield on a deep out to the Madison County 25. The only problem was Sinkfield was unable to catch the ball inbounds.
And what happens if Henry and tailback Simon Smiley -- who rushed for 97 yards and both Catholic scores -- have a clean exchange midway through the second quarter and the ball isn't fumbled away at the Catholic 16? Madison County's final points of regulation came with 2:48 left until halftime after D.J. Knight scored on a 3-yard run following the turnover.
"I told the kids all week, the game will boil down to execution and who executes better over the course of 48 minutes," Seibert said. "You can look at those plays ... and the plays that didn't quite go Madison County's way, too, and the opportunities to have a difference-making play to decide the outcome existed.
"It is what it is. We came up one play short."
Purifoy a beast
Catholic's 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior linebacker Delvin Purifoy already has been selected to ESPN's Top 150 for the Class of 2014, and No. 3 sure played like he belonged among the nation's elite Friday night.
Unofficially recording six tackles for loss, plus one sack, Purifoy constantly disrupted Madison County's Wing-T attack in the backfield. And he saved his best for overtime.
The Cowboys managed minus-1 yard on three plays prior to Zach Money's 27-yard field that proved the difference in the game.
After Madison County's star running back Keon Bruton went for 4 yards on first down, Purifoy stopped Bruton for a 1-yard loss on second down and Knight for minus-4 on third down.
" I feel Delvin played up to his potential Friday night," Seibert said. "He's played pretty well for most of the season -- and at times really, really well -- but on Friday night, he showed up. He took it to another level."
How good was Catholic High's defensive performance at Madison County? Consider this:
The Cowboys entered the Region 1-3A final averaging 39.8 points per game.
The only time Madison County didn't score at least 29 points came on Oct. 26 in a 14-9 loss to undefeated Gainesville, which plays this week for the Region 2-6A title.
But Catholic was solid, holding Madison County scoreless over the final 26:58 of regulation.
"That performance has got to be in the top 3 or 4 in my tenure at Catholic," Seibert said. "When you consider the caliber team Madison County is, to hold them to 14 points in a game most people thought we had no chance in -- outstanding."